Anybody else having trouble keeping up? When I was 14, my parents would dismiss the music of the day as a repetitive series of bleeps and yowls. Frankly, their description of The Prodigy was pretty accurate, but I would defend Braintree’s incendiary pop/rave/rock crossovers to the hilt. Hey, guess what? I’m now not far off the age that my dad was back then, and find it difficult to comprehend what teenagers listen to today.
Back then, I couldn’t possibly appreciate how quickly time would end up passing, and I’m far from alone on that. The future is coming at us like a bullet from a gun, and there’s just no dodging it. It’s hard to predict what people will want to listen to, drive or experience in the years ahead, and it hurts when things like car magazines, favourite bands and local landmarks disappear that you thought would be around for ever.
On this latter point, we say goodbye to the cruise ship on which I proposed to my wife back in 2013. It’s just been sold for scrap — a victim of the fact that time waits for no man and tastes, desires and expectations are constantly changing.
Many would suggest that this old ship has done well to avoid the cutter’s torch for so long. She was built in 1983 for Holland America line as Nieuw Amsterdam, becoming the Patriot of America Classic Cruises in 2000, and then Thomson Spirit from then until 2017. It was in this guise that Nicola and I spent 9 nights aboard on a cruise of the Norwegian fjords and coast. We returned home engaged to be wed, and with a fond wish to board that ship again at some point in the future.
That never happened. In 2015 she (the ship…) was renamed Marella Spirit due to a change of company name, and certain letters of that name were painted over on 29 October 2018, becoming Mare S for the final journey to the shipbreaking beaches of Alang, Bangladesh. For the Spirit, there is no longer a future, but for the metals she’s made from, there most certainly is.
What destiny holds for her near-identical sister ship, the Marella Celebration, is unknown but, although a year younger, Celebration is plagued by the same notable defect as Spirit. Both are Described in Berlitz’ Cruising and Cruise Ships as having “poor build quality”, leading to “excessive vibration, particularly at the stern, since new”. It seemed to me that vibration wasn’t quit the right word — the ship actually throbbed, a big, distinct pulse, perhaps linked to the rotation of the prop shafts. Depending on whereabouts you were on board, you’d feel it less or more. In our cabin right forwards at the bow and down on the waterline we felt little of this powerful low-frequency oscillation, but a fair amount of shimmy would fizz through the metalwork that supported all the wood-effect decor surfaces. Head to the Horizons lounge bar atop the bridge, though, and the oscillation was exaggerated to head-banging levels.
Whether or not this characteristic was instrumental in sealing Spirit‘s fate, I can only conjecture. However, there’s no doubt at all that her design and size were both rather dated, and a comparatively long (704ft) ship with space for only 1,350 passengers probably isn’t quite the money-making machine that cruise operators want these days, especially when a refit is due, too. At 35 years old, she was far from the oldest cruise ship in circulation, but the vast majority of older vessels are smaller and less costly to run, and operate on more expensive, ’boutique’ services that are a long way removed from the ‘mass market’ that Marella Cruises are engaged with. And, frankly, if Spirit no longer satisfied the Marella accountants, why would any other operator want to take her on?
The cruise concept is changing — into something that leaves me a little cold. A typical cruise ship is now a floating resort, both in terms of the amenities it offers and its outwards appearance. The leviathans that criss-cross the world’s oceans are akin to gloss-white tower blocks, all sea-view balconies and rooftop golf courses. Any resemblance to a ship has become purely coincidental. While cruise customers still want food, retail, constant entertainment and a conveyor-belt of constantly-changing scenery, you’re in the minority if you hanker for an experience like how things used to be.
Nicola and I wanted to feel like we were on a ship. It was our first (and thus far, last) cruise, and we wanted all the romantic, traditional aspects that a cruise could offer. To feel the ocean beneath us, to stroll on teak-laid promenades and to escape from constant noise, activity and cheerfulness. On the Spirit, we soon ran out of things to do on board, and that suited us just fine. When we weren’t ashore, we’d turn to reading a book, either inside, with a beautiful view from one of the lounge windows, or on deck, huddled beneath a blanket on a sun-lounger. It was absolute bliss. And, that all-pervading mechanical rhythm criticised by Berlitz became a defining part of the experience. The ship felt alive. A comforting reminder that there were things going on below that would take us places. This may seem like the sentimental babbling of a lunatic, but Spirit felt human. A ship for people who like being on a ship. It’s no surprise to me that she enjoys such loyalty among guests, with many repeat visits — but alas not enough keep her from the breaker’s yard.
Just as too few people demand simple cars with a manual gearbox, an absent infotainment screen and a bias away from glitziness and towards tactility, society’s hunger for constant entertainment and endless amenity means cruise ships are getting bigger and more horrible. And, while car manufacturers may pay lip service to enthusiasts — BMW by offering the M2 Competition, for example — their radar is sure to be tracking the demands of the mainstream, who, ultimately, line the coffers with sales of bread and butter models that leave many of us cold. ‘Traditional’ cruise ships are disappearing because they just don’t turn over as many bucks as a water-borne condominium might. Such vessels are the ‘white SUV on finance’ of the vacation world. ‘Everybody’ wants one.
The final tragedy when Mare S hits the beach is this: All the finery that created such a relaxing, contented feeling — the acres of lush carpet, the handsome teak decking, the cabin woodwork, everything whose purpose was cosmetic rather than functional or structural — will likely be thrown away. Destroyed, and not even recycled. Just as when a car hits the crusher, it’ll probably be consumed seats ‘n all. Unless intercepted by a junkyard shopper — and such people are certainly thinning out markedly in the UK — the stereo, the window switches, the column stalks, the instrument cluster, the carpets, seats, sunroof, door trims, everything the car’s occupants interact with during a journey, and everything that makes the car what it is to travel in, will be reduced to garbage. The major mechanical units may be removed for resale, but even that’s not a given. For the poor old Spirit, just like any end of life car, the money is in the metal.
Like it or not, that sleek machine on your drive will, one day, be condemned to the same fate. The colossal new cruise ships that blight the oceans today? Just the same. One day, they’ll follow the Spirit onto the beach of doom. Both your car and that ship might be the right machine for the moment, but time seems to be accelerating away, and one day both will give way to the next big thing.
(All images copyright Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2018)